GamaSutra has posted an article about Diablo III’s loot system. It’s a decent read, and they have some fresh quotes from Kevin Martens, but there’s not really any new info to be had. Just general info stuff on how everything must be fine-tuned, etc. A quote.
Behind the graphics, character art and level design of Diablo III is this very loot drop system that requires years of testing. So how difficult is it to strike the perfect balance of loot drops, challenge, and reward to keep the player endlessly striving towards greater in-game progress?
“That balance is honestly the main reason why it takes so long to make a proper Diablo game,” Kevin Martens, lead content designer for Diablo III told Gamasutra.
“The bulk of our work goes into tuning the game’s loot drop system,” he said. “There are so many parameters to alter, it can be dizzying. Even the slightest increase to gold drop can suddenly change everything in the game. Even a .01 percentage change in loot drop can drastically change the balance between player challenge and reward.”
Knowing that the margin of failure can be so high, making a game expected to sell millions at launch alone is a high-pressure situation. “[Keeping fans happy is] absolutely one thing we always have to keep in mind when we tweak anything in the game, because we have to normalize those slight changes to over a million players, or even 5 million players.”
The loot is indeed one of the most important long term game features; people don’t compare Diablo 2 to a slot machine for nothing. That said, citing them as the main reason for the long dev time seem a stretch. Itemization is one of the last thing the developers work on, since all the other systems need to be set before they can properly balance loot. Look at the ongoing changes to skill runes, the way Artisans recently went from 5 levels to 10, and all the items with their “temporary stats subject to change” warnings on the Blizzard website. If they spend anywhere near as long balancing item modifiers and drop rates as they did building the main game content, we won’t be playing this thing before 2015.
(Note to D3 developers: that was not a request!)